Hello, you're on the air well, then maybe you're not Lack of phones was a mixed blessing.


Try being the host of a radio call-in show when most of th state's telephones seem to be dead.

Brian Mac donald, on the air at WCBM for his afternoon talk show, saw the volume of calls drop 30 percent yesterday afternoon, when a computer failure at a computer switching center put the kabosh on more than 6 million phones in four states.

Those callers who did get through tended to be from out of state or in the same Randallstown exchange as the station -- 922. Mac donald also fielded a few calls from the city and from cellular car phones.

At one point, Mac donald said in an on-the-air interview, every line on the phone bank lighted up, only to go dead moments later. "Whatever it was, they got the thing fixed and then unfixed."

Fewer calls did not mean, Mac donald said, more time for those who got through."You don't necessarily let people talk longer. If someone's boring . . . you do other things."

Others had to make do, too.

"With the phones out, I'm sort of stuck in the house. I've jus been doing my domestic thing here. I've been waiting for the phones to get back to work so I can make my business calls," said Sandi Polvinale of Towson, free-lance artist who works at home.

She received a few incoming calls successfully and had six messages on her answering machine. The trouble was, she couldn't return any of the calls.

Around lunchtime, Beryl Lowenson, supervisor of classified sales representatives at the Baltimore Sun, looked around and noticed that many of her 38 sales reps weren't on the phone. She soon found out why.

The whole day, she says, was "Eerie. Really unbelieveable, how it got so quiet all of a sudden. Usually the phone is ringing like crazy around here."

At carryout restaurants downtown, the problem was an inconvenience.

"It means people have to walk in and order their food instead of phoning ahead. So they have to wait a little longer. It hasn't been a big deal," said Demetri Carman, owner of Carman's Place restaurant and carryout at 311 N. Calvert St. About 20 percent of his food orders come in by phone.

The breakdown also struck the State House in Annapolis, where lawmakers had just finished a single-day special session. One State House administrator, who asked not to be identified, said the lack of ringing phones was "wonderful."

"My phones had been ringing off the hook because of the special session," she said. "There's nothing else I want to hear from the outside. At least now I'm getting some work done."

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